Following on from my last entry on the subject (Memory – The Poor Draughtsman) I thought back to the ruined church I saw in Berlin, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial church.
For me, the tower is just what the memory of a building is; a ruin of sorts, one which in part has been reconstructed by the brain to make an image which best approximates reality. Its edges are indistinct, the stone is vague and the fabric a hotchpotch of different materials no doubt rescued from the rubble. Whenever we think of a place we know – for example a building – we build – or rebuild – anew in our minds every time we think of it, constructing the remembered thing from whatever we can find.
The following image is a quick Photoshop sketch which takes the idea of the remembered ruin by blending an old map of Oxford (1750) with the image of the contemporary city as a ruin (aerial view) which I made recently. A more finished piece might leave those buildings still extant intact and blend in fully the areas which have been completely destroyed or altered.
Looking at this, and considering ideas of memory and draughtmanship, I was reminded of the work of Arie A. Galles who has made fourteen large scale drawings of aerial photographs taken over death camps during the second world war. I first discovered his work when studying the death camp at Belzec and have now begun to understand or interpret his work in a different way.
For him, memory is no ruin, it is as sharp as a photograph taken from the skies. But there is it seems a difference between the memory of a place and the memory of people. In the image of Belzec (above) something has been obscured, hidden, buried. It is a piece of text, the fourth verse of the Kaddish; a prayer said for the dead. Perhaps then, we should read this image as a warning, that this place of trauma will always be there, but is victims are gone; there is always the risk it seems of forgetting.
What is also interesting for me about Galles’ work, is the fact the drawings are made using charcoal. There is something about it (something it shares with coal), which gives the drawings of Galles’ extra poignancy; something living, now dead is used to make something new – it creates. I mention coal as I have in light of my work on my family tree, in particular with regards my great-grandfather Elias who worked in the coal mines of South Wales, been considering making drawings using coal. The images of the ruined city, the areial photographs and the black and white photographs I’ve been looking at of people long dead all point to my looking more closely at this idea.